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Norco ranked No. 1 in high school softball behind unbeaten pitcher Stevie Hansen

Pitcher Stevie Hansen is 24-0 in her career for Norco.
(Marian Beecher )

Mark Tennis of CalHiSports.com has come up with 15 teams to watch in the Southern Section for the high school softball season that begins this weekend. Norco will play at Los Alamitos on Tuesday in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 3.

Here’s his rundown:

1. Norco 11-1, 32-1
We’ll never know if the Cougars would have bounced back from their early loss last year to win a third straight Southern Section D1 title. While 2019-20 state girls’ athlete of the year Sarah Willis has graduated, Norco still has the players and track record to be No. 1 in the state again. Coach Rick Robinson can send out perhaps the best pitcher in the state in any big game as Stevie Hansen (Oregon signee ) has gone unbeaten in her career. Junior outfielder Abby Dayton also returns as one of the top hitters. Sophomore Alyssa Hovermale made her presence known as a freshman infielder last season and should be another key cog.

2. Chino Hills 9-2, 27-5
The Huskies snagged the No. 1 preseason national ranking from MaxPreps and appear to have more college-bound players than any other team in the state. Starting that high for a program that has never even gotten to a Division 1 final, however, doesn’t make sense. We decided to wait until the Huskies play Norco, which is scheduled for March 26. Four-year starting pitcher Kendall Mangel (Nebraska) has 58 wins. Two other seniors in our Hot 100 state player rankings are infielder Kayla Chavez (Minnesota) and outfielder Mckenzie Hannah (Boise State).

Pitcher Kendall Mangel leads top-ranked Chino Hills softball team, which has seven players committed to playing in college.

3. Los Alamitos 10-0, 19-9
Coach Rob Weil’s girls were No. 1 in the state last spring when the season shut down so there is some sentiment toward keeping the team near the top to start 2021. The pitching isn’t as settled as other top teams, but the Griffins have a big-time lineup. Catcher Sophia Nugent is a state and national player of the year candidate headed to Oklahoma. There’s also seniors Emma Sellers (South Carolina INF) and Erin Mendoza (Oregon State OF) who can do damage. Weil also is one of the best at preparing teams for big games.

4. Gahr (Cerritos) 6-0, 22-6
If there are no CIF-SS playoffs, and those can’t happen now with current state pandemic-related travel restrictions, then it becomes important to know which counties these teams are in. We’d start out Gahr tops for L.A. County, but as of now the Gladiators couldn’t play anyone in Riverside County (like Norco) since those two counties are not adjacent. Gahr has two dominant players with UCLA recruit Taylor Stephens (2B) and Oregon State-bound Kristalyn Romulo (OF). Plus, there is a pitcher, senior Ashley Benavides, who has been successful.

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5. Santa Margarita 5-0, 25-4
Outfielder Angie Yellen was the highest riser in our most recent Hot 100 state player rankings for the senior class and has signed with Washington. The Eagles also have one of the top returning pitchers in Southern California with senior Jayci Kruse signed by Missouri. Three others from a talented senior class with D1 scholarships are Abigail Charpentier (Santa Clara), Miranda Lista (Abilene Christian) and Brooke Owens (Grand Canyon).

6. Crescenta Valley 10-1, 27-5-1
The Falcons proved their status as an elite squad with their high finish at the 2020 Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz. DeeDee Hernandez, an ace pitcher who also is a member of the Mexican national team, is among several standout returnees. Junior catcher Izzy Jamgotchian and senior outfielder Morgan Eng were two of the others. The only reason we didn’t go with Crescenta Valley even higher was not knowing its strength of schedule. With no tournaments and likely no section playoffs, that’s a much harder determination than usual.

7. Corona Santiago 8-4, 19-6-1
Savannah Hooks received all-state recognition as a sophomore in 2019 and actually has the experience of pitching a team to a win over Norco (the Sharks’ league rival). She has signed with Loyola Marymount. Outfielder Kaylah Nelsen, a senior headed to Oregon State, and infielder Amari Harper, a junior ranked among the top 100 recruits nationally by ExtraInningSoftball, are two of Santiago’s other top players.

8. Villa Park 8-2, 15-11
Junior pitcher Sydney Somerndike has committed to Arizona and is regarded as one of the top class of 2022 hurlers in the nation. The Spartans also have tons more experience and talent returning from last season. The list includes seniors Andreya Florea (Fairleigh Dickinson), Courtney Alvarado (Vanguard) and Andrea Alvarado (Eastern New Mexico), who all signed letters of intent in February.

9. Westlake 6-0, 20-9
Two years ago as a sophomore, Kylie Chung went 11-1 in the circle with a 1.51 ERA. She’s now getting ready for her senior season and a future at Stanford. Last year’s team also appeared on its way to making history with a 59-6 scoring edge in its first six games and just about everyone is back.

10. Grand Terrace 4-0, 25-4-1
Last year’s team of Titans was thought to be in rebuilding mode and never got the chance to play the strongest teams on its schedule. This year’s group comes back loaded with D1-bound prospects. The list includes a pitcher, Jessica Hubbard, who is headed to Loyola Marymount. Three other seniors to watch are Sacramento State-bound 3B Nikki Barboza, Cal Baptist-bound MIF Priscilla Estrada and St. Mary’s College-bound 1B Aslyn Zermeno.

11. Anaheim Canyon 6-3, 19-9-1
One of the great league races in the state will be in the Crestview League of the CIF-SS where Villa Park (No. 9 above) and Canyon will battle. The Comanches have many returning players and have a dominant pitcher in junior Kylee Magee. She’s won national titles at the club level and has committed to Arizona State. With Villa Park’s Sydney Somerndike committed to Arizona, Sun Devils and Wildcats fans will probably pay close attention to their matchups.

12. Saugus 8-2, 20-8
The Centurions could move up if their pitching comes through. The lineup that coach Julie Archer can put out there is stacked. The list includes three big-time senior recruits: 1B Gracie Keene (Tennessee), 3B/1B McKenna Gibson (also Tennessee) and OF Allie Enright (Arizona).

13. Orange Lutheran 9-3, 23-7-1
Another good team from the Trinity League.

14. Murrieta Mesa 9-2, 13-14.
The Inland Empire is loaded again with top teams.

15. Oaks Christian 8-2, 22-5-1.
Ventura County has several strong squads besides Westlake, and several could have made a case for a preseason state ranking. We’ll go with veteran coach Pete Ackermann’s group. The leading returnee from among many returning starters is Micaela Kastor. She has 13 career homers even with just the 10 games from 2020. Plus she has more than 100 strikeouts as a pitcher.


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